tv Forty Autumns CSPAN December 10, 2016 3:15pm-4:01pm EST
what is it that sparked your influence in this topic and made you want to write this book? >> it is an unbelievable story straight out of an alfred hitchcock movie from the 1930s with secret agents, spies and espionage, glamorous women and all sorts of things. a little corner of the kennedy presidency most people are not familiar with but the book argues she was in many ways as responsible for john kennedy becoming president as anybody. we think of john kennedy as a handsome, witty man destined to be president but when they had their romance he was a young officer in the office of naval intelligence, skinny, disheveled and had a terrible inferiority complex compared to his older brother joe junior. inga did a number of things, she bolstered his confidence, she knew adolf hitler, the president of france, the king and queen of denmark and she convinced john kennedy he had everything it took to be president and was
superior to his brother. encouraged jack kennedy to go to his father and tell him what he wanted to be in life. is the kennedy family didn't know jack kennedy had any political aspirations or any political talent and inga managed to help them stand up to his father and get the support he would need to become president and because their affair was so scandalous president kennedy was nearly court-martialed out of the navy. here he is an officer of naval intelligence and dating a suspected nazi spy and nearly court-martialed and said he was transferred and endeded up in combat in the south pacific where he became a war hero where pt 109 was some, jack kennedy thought his career was over because he thought thinking that but would be a disaster for his career. when he came back stateside he sat down with a reporter, inga, who realized he was very heroic, she wrote the templates for all future stories about john kennedy and pt 109 that portrayed him as a war hero, not a failure and that was the basis for the kennedy political
biography for all the years up to the white house. >> i think we are ready to get started. welcome to politics and prose. my name is emily, manager at the bookstore. a few housekeeping notes before the good stuff. if you could silence your cell phone so we could be in this moment together that would be wonderful and because we are filming with booktv, if you have questions after the talk, if you could use the microphone here the only way to capture the sun for the audience the premise -- present today, definitely go to the mike. it helps a lot and if you are not to your we do 500 other events a year, you should check out our event calendar that the information desk or on our website to see what is coming up, events through december 8th, some really good ones. thanks so much.
i am excited to welcome nina willner who serve the us army intelligence officer during the cold war. a plot point in book that i will let her tell you about it since then worked in russia and europe promoting human rights and the rule of law for the us government, not organizations in a variety of charities in "40 autumns," looks at a divided germany through the internet lens of her own family history, telling the story of tweetie generations of indomitable women painted chilling picture of life in a totalitarian regime, the chicago tribune wrote "40 autumns" is a compassionate family memoir, a powerful addition to the genre, with twists and turns of politics, over four decades shows how currents of reform affect individual lives. please join me in welcoming nina willner. [applause]
>> thank you, politics and prose, thank you for joining me for what is my book launch. i appreciate all of you taking time -- is this on? is the mic on? okay. i can speak up. does that work? okay. there we go. that is it. so again, thank you all for being here today, this day marks combination of quite a journey from the blues before i get started i would like to mention a few people with us today, tom griffin who among other postings in his remarkable career was commander in berlin in the 1980s when i was posted to berlin. friends, colleagues who are here
today, doctor hope harrison, one of the leading scholars on east germany and the cold war and i am on it she agreed to be the historian for my project. my family including my mother, who at the age of 20 scapes from east germany and ran for freedom eventually coming to america and without her courage i would not be here telling this story today. "40 autumns," what is the book about? it is the story of what happened to my family during the cold war. from my mother's escape in east germany to the family she left behind, large family, mother, father, eight siblings who were trapped in a prison country and going into east germany as a young american intelligence officer leading intelligence operations on soviet territory. the family story is set in a bigger picture, bigger framework of the bigger picture, cold war
story, the american superpowers struggle for dominance in the space race and nuclear arms race. conflict that raged around the world, tensions that bordered on the brink of nuclear war and within that story is my family forcibly separated for 40 years never knowing if they would see each other again. so i would like to start off with a little background and put this on the map. i don't have a map today but there are maps in the book. at the end of world war ii, 1945, soviet and western allies and the french defeated the nazis, making their way through germany to liberate the country. americans were the first to arrive where my mother, a teenager at the time, her parents and siblings. americans state for sure why but explain to villagers that the
country has been divided. the west will be administered to western allies in the east by the soviets. the american sergeants tells the villagers to the east, the americans explain they can take one or two villagers to the west but no one in the village wants to break up their family and i grandmother hearing stories the soviets are raping german women as they make their way to the country forces her oldest daughter, my mother who is 17 years old at this point to leave with the americans headed westward. several miles down the road, goes running back home to her family and the next day the soviets arrived. germany is divided into two have western allies take control of west germany, soviets occupy the eastern half of the country that becomes east germany and insight
east germany, 110 miles inside east germany is berlin, just like germany itself is divided into two have, berlin run by western allies, east berlin by the soviets, with berlin is essentially a tiny island of democracy and freedom completely encircled by communist territory. the east becomes a police state based on communist authoritarianism, a communist dictatorship based on the soviet union and the ministry for state security, secret police, on the kgb, forces the population into submission. on the other side administered by nato allies, based on democracy and freedom. as the marshall begins to develop the west the soviets stripped the east.
everything from railroad tracks to farm machinery to toilets, even doorknobs. entire cities and towns are gutted, factories dismantled to be reassembled in the soviet union. food is to be turned in and divided equally among people which is slow to happen or doesn't happen at all. they confiscate private property and germans impose rules which amount to conform or you are an enemy of the state. words against the regime are enough to have anyone interrogated or imprisoned. soviet occupiers telling the villagers the soviet army comes as friends and brothers to help build a new germany. but following that, all food is to be relinquished soviet
command immediately. anyone found porting food will be shot. anyone who attacks a soviet soldier will be shot and so on. intense propaganda campaign and sues in the communist regime takes over society, initially outlining religion, censoring media in all forms of communication and broadcasting signals coming from the west. i would like to share with you a little bit from the book that helps illustrate the kind of things that were happening at this time in east germany. at this point in the border town with west germany, east and west, it was a border town, the
authorities were afraid it would be quick access for people to make a break. authorities kept a close eye on young bull, curfews were in force, started well before sundown and entered after don, punishments levied not just on those who attempted to flee but on those suspected of having knowledge of an escape and failed to report it. words against the regime were not to have one escorted to the town, the local makeshift soviet headquarters. converted stables were interrogated and hauled off to prison. it took some longer than others to get the message. one day at school the students on the back of the classroom during a break, a likable but mischievous boy who sometimes had a tendency to talk too much went a step too far as how can they teach as this, peter
scoffed? can you believe it, teaching a stalin is a great leader. two years ago the same teacher was teaching a stalin was a great demon he said. putting his wiggling fingers to his head and sitting out his tongue in a mock devil gesture. as the other boys 5 snickers peter looked up to see the school's communist party minder staring at it with a penetrating glare, approached the boy, seized him by the scruff and hauled him out of class. peter was not seen again. tens of thousands of people were sent to jail and hundreds would be executed. anywhere able to flee east germany in the first five years, it becomes harder as east germany fortified its border with the west and border guards are given orders to shoot to kill. food is coming into west germany, in the east people go hungry. my mother told the story of being sent to work in fields pulling carrots and being so
hungry but doesn't eat a single carrot for fear that someone will see her eating unauthorized food and she will be shot which where two teenage girls set out a cardboard sign in which the communist party, please give us food, not the image the soviets but portray as they haul the girls to prison and i know the story from having interviewed one of the girls who served a year and a half in jail for that which my grandfather is a village teacher who is now teaching soviet doctrine, the russian language which she learns the night before teaching at the next day. my grandmother tries to cope urging her children to lay low, follow the rules and not attract undue attention. the children join the young pioneers, her older brother signed up to be a teacher in the
communist system but sees what is going on all around her and has no intention of conforming. almost all connections are severed, insight east germany things are getting more dire, raised concerns to her grandfather, he takes her out and shows her where the rail lines have been pulled up and are gone and he tells her if you want to get out do it soon. in less then a year this place will be one big prison. so she makes several attempts at escape, once with her grandfather's help, once where she is shot at by a soviet soldier, twice she is dragged back into the east and the third time she makes it.
this escape sets in motion the story, a journey which launches our family through the next 30 years through the cold war. over the next 40 years we learn very little about the family in the east. we are able to exchange a few letters but i knew little about what was happening in their lives, we in the west knew it all, east germany, in the police state that had appalling human rights record and imprisoned its citizens. a principled man with historic pews can't help but speak up when he sees injustice around him. he even writes a letter to the east german leader, speaking on behalf of the farmers suggesting a compromise between the new laws of collectivization and what farmers want which is to keep some of their land. that didn't go over well. besides being the father of a
criminal, because he is associated, his daughter has escaped, he is on the authorities watchlist as being a troublemaker and branded politically unreliable who in order to keep his place in society works hard to prove himself and joins the communist party. one year after hannah fled to the west another child, heidi, the ninth and last child, the family is born. she please with the authorities to be able to go see her daughter in the west and after many rejections the authorities agreed to it but it is under the condition that she would spy on hannah is now working for the americans at the u.s. army military headquarters in heidelberg, west germany. she is allowed to take 5-year-old heidi, the first time, as it turns out will be the only time they will meet in
those 40 years. a brief but powerful meeting and heidi grows up idolizing her sister who has escaped so much so that as an adult she never joins the communist party. in the book i describe how heidi managed the results of those bad decisions. so in the east the secret police intensify their control and manipulation of the population, east germany's 18 million citizens penetrating every aspect of a person's life, reading their mail, listening in on conversations, tracking their movements, gathering compromising details in an attempt to learn people as weaknesses so it can be exploited. in the book i talk about trying to get the family to inform on each other and send grandparents west on a second spy mission to find out about hannah's work and her new husband, my father, who is a u.s. army intelligence
officer stationed at the headquarters and this is the last time my mother will see her parents. in the east, ramps up the use of informant using its own citizen to work as spies who support on their neighbors, classmates, colleagues, teachers and family members. the program is a success because nobody can be trusted or knows who the informants are. it can be your friend, the person you share and office with, teammate on the sports team, the janitor in the apartment complex. the program using informants would eventually have one in six east germans forming. one interesting story, a former east german historian, well-known historian tells the story of after the wall fell, early 1990s, having a conversation with a former stasi
agent who said i think i would have known if you spend someone to spy on me and the stars a man answered we didn't need to send anyone. these were people who surrounded you. he found out two of his best friends had reported on him. so all this is to say this became a way of life and this is how life normalized for people of east germany, people learned to adapt, self censor their thoughts, this becomes a way of survival. as my aunts told me we survived simply by following the is trying to stay below the radar and not get to the system. in 1953 there is an uprising in east germany. workers protest living, working conditions, demonstrate for
basic human rights, reform and freedom but the red army moves in with tanks and crushes the rebellion, hundreds are killed, tens of thousands arrested for their role in participating, some 100 organizers are executed and along with around 20 soviet soldiers who are executed for refusing to shoot demonstrators and now the secret police tell the leadership, tell the secret police to do whatever is necessary to make sure an uprising never happens again. by 60s, some 3 million, 1/6 of the population has fled and the regime decides the time has come to do something to stop the hemorrhaging of its labor force if they don't want to see their country collapse altogether. the border between east and west germany is cured in berlin due to the interconnected nature of the city, people are still able to escape into west berlin but by now there are rumors the regime and to someday build a
structure, perhaps a wall, to permanently separate west berlin from the east, cutting off the last hope of escape. by the early 1960s, 2000 east germans a day are fleeing into west berlin. the east german leader tried to go on the airwaves and say, this is a quote, no one has any intention of building a wall. but one month later that is exactly what he does. what starts as a barbed wire and brick wall becomes a 12 foot high, 3 foot thick concrete wall with a rounded top to prevent grasping, wire mesh, electrical fencing, tripwires, searchlight and a death strip, 100 yard wide gauntlet of carefully rigged fans that make it easy to spot
the footprints of escapees. the wall stretches over 100 miles completely encircling berlin and sealed the country. one year later in 1962, to my grandparents, his youngest son, my uncle is ordered to be a border guard to serve at the berlin wall. between the building of the wall in 1961 and the fall of the wall in 1989, almost 150 people would be shot trying to escape with some 1000 others killed while trying to cross the border or by drowning in the baltic sea or the berlin river. the berlin wall was clearly built to keep the people in, but the east german leadership tells its people the wall is built to keep subversives out. subversives from the west out but the family in the east knows that and some east germans might
be fooled, millions of others know why the wall was built. my grandmother has built a wall of her own and even gives it a name, the family wall. i want to read another excerpt from the book. the safe haven she had begun to create the day the soviets stepped foot to shelter her family from the suffocation of the regime now have a name. she declared family wall a sanctuary, refuge where the family would preserve their souls by keeping the good in and the bad out. the children followed her lead and the concept took hold. inside the family wall the children left down their guard. of the fabric of east german society began to fray under the yoke of an orwellian climate of oppression and families wondered whether they could trust their spouses, parents or siblings,
she demanded family trust and loyalty. behind closed doors, she insisted they foster the idea of any chance against the regime out to crush the spirit of its people. so the cold war rages on. the space race takes off, nuclear arms race continues with the soviet union and the us building their nuclear arsenal, major world tensions to communism against another, and soviet leader khrushchev go head to head in various conflicts, khrushchev saying to the rest we will bury you. after the wall is built east germany's reputation already at a low plummet. the regime lunch is a sports program the likes of which had never been seen in history at
all. the country of east germany producing extraordinary athletes. the country's reputation goes off and starting to watch when an east german shatters a record, the competition at the olympics, and east germany is doping top athletes. opaga continues to speak up against the regime, chalks up more black marks and pays the price for his belligerence. the marginalized, kicked out of the communist party and is banished to a remote area in east germany, even sent to an insane asylum you have to undergo reeducation training. the family makes its way and they become teachers. they live their lives by following the rules and laws trying to preserve the self dignity.
and trying to live a life of meaning in this restricted environment tidy, the little sister, grows up, she and her husband suffer the consequences especially professionally. they also create a secret hideaway, magical place with a flower garden that becomes a refuge where they can escape emotionally from the stress of the society. paradise bungalow is what they call it, a tiny oasis of freedom and life energy. i won't ruin that story, you have to read that one. in the 1970s in america my mother and father raised six children. we live a very comfortable life in the land of freedom and opportunity. in the east, heidi has an 8-year-old daughter who is an athletic dynamo and catches the eye of talent scouts for
incredible athletic ability and is swept into the german, east german sports program. in 1978 in the us, my brother albert is with us today as well, and 18-year-old college sophomore goes on a backpack trip to west germany, and unbeknownst to any of this slips into east germany to meet the family behind the iron curtain. an amazing story i won't follow for you. in the 1980s the soviet union has a reform minded leader, mikhail gorbachev. we have ronald reagan and the two work to improve relations. by the time i arrived in berlin in the early 1980s as an army intelligence officer the red army has 20 divisions facing the west. is the height of the cold war and berlin is a hotbed of
intelligence activity and the spy capital of the world, all sorts of intelligence activity from both sides of the berlin wall are being employed and i was given the job of leading intelligence collection into east berlin where we went into the east in teams of two to spy on the soviets. in the book i share a little bit about the teens that did this work, the risk and dangers that came with the job including car chase, detentions, and the soviets in east germany, targeting us constantly, stasi archive researchers come up with photos of operations surveilling me in my teens and pictures are also in the book. while i was working in east berlin my cousin who by then had been swept up into the intense world of east german sports had
become a member of the east german olympic training team in women's cycling, and racing around east berlin at the same time i was crossing through checkpoint charlie a couple miles away conducting intelligence operations in the east, we didn't know that until the wall fell and we were able to figure that out. in the book i also told the story of a brave soul not related to the family. major arthur nicholson who i worked with, who is buried at arlington national ceremony to the cemetery, shot and killed in 1985 while automation and east germany. major nicholson became the last casualty of the cold war. spoke to family members and some who were killed trying to escape, family members of people trying to escape and tell the
story of political prisoners i interviewed and a few dissidents who tried to speak up for the rights of all. i also spoke to guenter vessel who has become a personal friend. some may recall his extraordinary story. he spent several is throwing scraps of fabric to gather, canvas sheets, odd its of fabric, sewed on his mother in law's 40-year-old sewing machine and built a hot air balloon. he attached a homemade burner to it and along with another family, made a miraculous over the wall.
by the 1980s countries throughout europe are taking gorbachev actually for restructuring and opening up to the west but the leader of east germany, a hard-line communist, digs and refuses to budge from his position and fouse to be the last remaining hard-line dictator in eastern europe. but then suddenly on november 9, 1989, the world is stunned when east germans are told they are free to go. 60 million people emerge from behind the iron curtain including my mother's family and we reunite after 40 years apart. i detail how that fall came about possibly by accident and i take you through the reunion. sometimes i am asked what is this book about? what is the take away?
what does it all mean? despite living under the oppression, "40 autumns" is the story of courage, resilience and the human spirit. it is also about never giving up, losing hope and finally it is about the value of freedom. i would like to end with this is when i was doing my research i asked my uncle reinhardt who didn't join the communist party why he didn't join the communist party when he knew he could get ahead if he did. he said i knew the system was wrong but i wasn't going to trade my integrity for material benefit. and then he said for me it wasn't about material things, wasn't about wanting better products or food when there are food shortages. none of that mattered to me. i just wanted to be free. thanks for your attention. [applause] i think probably went
a little over but we can take a few questions if anybody has any. >> thank you very much for the story. two somewhat closely related questions, the rain one being the whole process and idea of joining the communist party in east germany during the cold war, was it easy to do provided that -- what were the requirements for being able to join the party? with anyone with a clear
criminal record or no criminal record or something allowed to join or was it based on some other level of achievement? >> generally speaking it was based on your willingness to be a member. that was about it. but they vetted people and it was not difficult to become a member of the party. they expected it. they welcomed everyone. >> the other question, you said your own operations missions into east germany, the way you put it you went there in teams of two, in your case to spy on the soviets. i didn't know if that was because you were not really distinguishing between east
also was able to get information from the archives, letters that were exchanged between the families, memoirs and diaries, especially photographs were important to my research. the second part was interviews or conversations with the family. interviews with a lot of people, conversations with the family, when i lived in moscow, closes the family and able to visit them a lot more often. we had a lot of great conversations around the dinner table. in eastern europe i was able to talk to a lot of eastern european people from the former soviet union, former czechoslovakia, bulgaria, hungary, their perspective, their experiences during the cold war so that was helpful for
me to understand the experience and political prisoners, going to the locations book, and research strips, met the town manager who gave me the keys to village museum, and on the porch, i went in there and it was like walking back time. this was set up to research the cold war in that village, everything from communist flags to communist party propaganda, young pioneer uniforms and symbols, secret police crests and all these things, ledgers,
school ledgers, i was able to see my grandfather's writings and things like that. there was a mockup of a classroom in that little tiny museum. some of those chairs and tables which might have been used in my grandfather's classroom. i was able to go to paradise bungalow. i have been back to paradise bungalow often. i visited the town where my grandfather and his family were banished after he spoke up one too many times. that was important. going back to berlin, which if any of you spent time during the cold war you know what it looked like then. if you haven't been back yet you should go because it resembles nothing of what it looked like once upon a time.
>> thank you. >> several years ago jean edwards lifted a biography of lucius clay, american military governor and it was a seminar at georgetown university, several people including frank clack, his son who had been a general talked about the early days in 45-46 one american intelligence penetrated east berlin, very interesting. they had moles in the east german government by early 47. one other question, can you remind me what your was at the us had diplomatic relations? was that when you were there? >> that was in the 70s, and the 80s. >> one story i was told is joan clark, a career diplomat, negotiating in berlin in 45 and
negotiating with the east germans, building for the american embassy and these berliners showed her a building, that will be -- not going to take that one. underneath is one of your tunnels because your stasi is right across the street, amazed she knew that. >> interesting, thanks for sharing that. >> this is a tough question from a moral point of view during the cold war, people chose sides. i sympathize with everything you said but we in america were supporting iran in latin america and other places and using similar tools. how do you equate the cold war to combat immorality in the world.
>> tough question. it requires a lengthy discussion. i don't think there is a simple answer to that one. maybe it is something we can talk about. i would be happy to go into that a little more. that is a loaded question. >> i am curious to know when you started thinking did your mother tell you these stories as you were growing up, something that you do or did it come later and when did you think this might become a story you wanted to tell? >> i opened the book, i won't spoil that story but i opened the book as a 5-year-old girl when i am told you don't have any relatives and the truth of the matter is my father besides being us army intelligence
officer happens to be a holocaust survivor, sole survivor in his family. he was alone in the world and my mother did not have her family and i wondered why i didn't have relatives so it was always with me from that point on. my mother didn't talk about it, she wanted to get on with her life. and we didn't have much information coming from the east. ..